LOS ANGELES (AP) Though the receiving corps has undergone a significant change, Southern California’s passing offense picked up where it left off the last time it played in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Cody Kessler completed 8 of 10 passes for 126 yards and one touchdown in a spring game Saturday that was heavily tilted towards the pass.
”From Day 1 to where we are now, I think the guys have made huge strides,” said Kessler, who threw for 39 touchdowns last season, including six in a home rout of Notre Dame to close out the regular season last November.
Depth concerns resulting from NCAA-imposed scholarship reductions forced coach Steve Sarkisian to go without live tackling, outside of goal-line drills to end the afternoon, and use an offense vs. defense scoring format. Despite those limitations, Sarkisian was pleased with how his second spring practice ended in front of an estimated crowd of 22,000.
”The receiving corps made plays, a lot of different guys. Cody did his thing. That part was positive,” Sarkisian said. ”All in all it was a good day for Trojan football.”
And even with top receivers Nelson Agholor and George Farmer declaring for the NFL Draft and tight end Randall Telfer graduating, Kessler showed a strong rapport with the youngsters vying for more playing time.
Slot receiver Steven Mitchell, the breakout star of the spring, caught a quick slant and raced 60 yards up the middle of the field before being touched down short of the goal line. Mitchell finished with seven receptions for 90 yards, sophomore JuJu Smith caught nine balls for 152 yards and one touchdown, and junior-college transfer Isaac Whitney added five catches for 45 yards.
Here are a few observations from the spring game at the Coliseum on Saturday:
LINGERING LINE CONCERNS: Essentially playing two-hand touch forced USC to ignore the running game, but Sarkisian expressed no doubts that the Trojans would be able to move the ball on the ground this fall.
Stopping the run, however, is a glaring question mark for USC given the turnover and uncertainty up front. The dominant and versatile lineman Leonard Williams is gone; so too is top pass rusher J.R. Tavai.
Starting nose tackle Antwaun Woods is recovering from a torn pectoral muscle. Former five-star recruit Kenny Bigelow was held out of spring practice to avoid any setbacks from a knee injury he suffered last summer. Defensive end Claude Pelon (academically ineligible) did not participate in the spring game, but Sarkisian said he would be available this fall.
Getting those three on the field and adding several new recruits to the mix are vital to stopping the prolific spread offenses found across the Pac-12, Sarkisian said
”The group that we need to get healthy and needs to perform in the fall is our defensive front, our front four,” Sarkisian said. ”We need to get Kenny back, we need to get Claude back going. We need to get the influx of these freshmen that are coming in, the Rasheem Greens, the Jacob Daniels, the Noah Jeffersons. That group, to solidify that is going to be a big point of emphasis of ours when we come back for fall camp.”
TWO-WAY ADOREE: Adoree Jackson didn’t fill up the stat sheet, managing one catch for 4 yards and two tackles, but the sophomore cornerback/wide receiver still left an impression.
Jackson lined up out wide and in the slot on offense, even motioning into the backfield. His speed was evident on vertical routes, easily running past his fellow defensive backs. And when he lined up in the secondary, Jackson stopped Mitchell short of the end zone on a long catch-and-run.
Though Jackson may only line up at receiver for 10-15 snaps per game, Kessler knows his value as a lock-down defender mandates a limited role.
”I’ve been selfish in always wanting him on offense, but he is one of those guys that is very unique and only comes through every once in a while,” Kessler said. ”Being as effective as he is on both sides of the ball is amazing.”
Jackson will also handle punt and kick returns this season, but did not get to display that part of his game Saturday.
GET YOUR KICKS: Matt Boermeester and Alex Wood are competing to replace four-year starting kicker Andre Heidari, and the flawless form each demonstrated should leave USC in an admirable position. Boermeester opened the game by making a 52-yard field goal, while Wood was successful from 51 yards later on.
HOLLYWOOD STARS: Former USC standouts Ronnie Lott, Willie McGinest, Anthony Munoz, Rodney Peete, and Tony Boselli attended the spring game. Lott and Munoz are both members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as USC is tied with Notre Dame for the most alumni enshrined with 12.